Blindness will never stop someone from achieving their goals provided they have a burning desire and perseverance. That is the advice of a young music student who is helping to preserve Khmer tradition despite physical disability.
Originally from Kampong Thom province, Chan Rithy said he loved and wanted to study the Kse Mouy or Kse Diev (one string) instrument since he was a little kid, yet he didn’t know where to study and could not afford the fees anyway.
“It has a beautiful and unique sound. Whenever I listen to it, I feel calmed by its slow rhythm. And that is what fits my taste.” He added, “It is a Khmer classical instrument and it is in danger of disappearing. Though many people don’t care about this, I want to devote myself to preserving it.”
He still believes that people like listening to the sound of this instrument but they don’t want to learn it, as in this age of rapid development, they are focused solely on financial matters rather than keeping the arts alive.
“People have approached me while I am practising and told me they love it so much. They are serious because they downloaded the sound into their phone, too.”
Additionally, the majority of parents never push their children to study instruments; in fact they scold them for wanting to study this field.
“I personally think that Cambodians don’t think art is a valuable career. They dismiss it as dancing and singing, thinking that such people are only good for what they do on stage, and useless off it. Frankly, I don’t agree with this.”
He said it has not been easy for him to study the one string instrument.
“I have to sit all day long to practice and get the right sound. It’s physically tiring. But I am proud of myself that I have been able to study the instrument I love the most. As a result, I am called a fast learner. After studying for a week, was able to get the correct sounds of a few songs. And I’m proud of that.”
Rithy, a fourth-year student of music theory at RUFA, recalled that at the Secondary School of Fine Arts, he studied guitar. When he moved to study at the university, he shifted his major.
“It is all about music theory, which brings a broader knowledge. And that opened a lot of doors for me; I could push myself to study lots of Khmer instruments.”
Mentioning his blindness, he said, “Being blind is difficult but it is more difficult for me as a student because I have to do research. I ask people to help, yet not many people can read music notation. But I am thrilled and will continue to accept the challenge.”
Spending about 20 years learning music, Mr Rithy has participated in many performances in Cambodia. However, he has suffered occasional setbacks in his career due to his blindness, something he said is discouraging sometimes.
“Once we started a band, and [his bandmates] called me all the time. But when they got famous, they told me bluntly that because I am blind I cannot be in the band anymore. It really traumatised me, but I still go on. Nothing can end my passion.”
He also recalled the time he wanted to study the Chapey, yet people didn’t support him as Cambodia has a taboo that people will become blind if they play Chapey.
“They are trying to preserve and urge people to study Chapey, but not blind people like me. But nothing can win over my strong commitment.”
Despite the stereotypes related to blindness, Mr Rithy hopes to become a well-known artist in Cambodia and get a proper job as a music instructor.
“Though I am disabled, I never want to be a burden to anyone. I know it is inevitable, but I am trying to ask as little help as possible.”
His ultimate message to disabled people was that, to avoid discrimination, show your capacity for doing things as much as you possibly can. He also thanked the Arn Chorn-Pond Living Arts Scholarship for sponsoring his one string studies.
Arn Chorn-Pond Scholarship is open now, visit: www.cambodianlivingarts.org